Tathva International Secondary School’s Sidaarth Kumarevel was crowned winner of the 7th Japan Times Bee on Saturday after besting his 37 rivals by correctly spelling philhellenism.
“The competition was really tough as there were many good spellers, but studying hard paid out,” the 12-year-old spelling sleuth said at Japan Times Nifco Hall in Tokyo.
The victory earned Kumarevel, who was born and raised in Japan, the right to represent Japan in the finals of the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington in May. There, he will compete against nearly 300 fellow spellers from around the world for the $30,000 prize.
In addition to airfare and an expenses-paid trip to the United States, Kumarevel won a Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, a $100 U.S. savings bond for the Samuel Louis Sugarman Award, and a one-year subscription to Britannica.com. He also received a book signed by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy.
This year’s Japan Times Bee attracted students from 38 international schools and U.S. military bases around Japan aged from 8 to 15.
Although a word like philhellenism might be expected to give some contestants trouble, Kumarevel said it was his lucky day.
“I just read it this morning,” the champion explained as he confidently repeated the word to reporters after accepting the trophy. Philhellenism refers to the veneration of Greece or the Greeks, according to Webster’s.
The rules for the spelling bee are similar to those used in the U.S. competition. To advance, a given word must be spelled out loud after being read by the pronouncer. If a contestant misspells the word or takes too long, he or she is disqualified. The time limit is left to the discretion of the pronouncer and the judges.
Contestants are allowed to ask the judges for a word’s definition, part of speech and language of origin, as well as an alternative pronunciation. They can also ask to hear it used in a sentence.
The champ refused to use such help.
“I was more worried about the vocabulary round,” Kumarevel said, referring to the stage in which contestants are asked to pick the proper definition of a word.
Kumarevel said he started preparing for the Japan Times Bee in February and used the free education app Quizlet for flashcard practice every day. Although overwhelmed by the victory, he said his preparation and confidence helped him tackle such words as virtuoso, odyssey, and pitchblende with ease.
He also offered future participants some simple advice: “Don’t be nervous and use Quizlet.”
The champion’s father said he was very happy about his son’s achievement.
“He did it all by himself,” Thirumananseri Kumarevel said.
In the future, the spelling champ said he wants to become a scientist and believes his spelling skills will help him deal with the complex terms often used in scientific publications.
But for now, he said he prefers sports and playing outside to studying.
Runnerup Vishwag Paleri, of the Tokyo-based India International School in Japan, put up a good fight by correctly spelling vernacular and cavalry, but was eventually tripped up by dupes, defined as “puppets or tools especially of a powerful person or idea.”
Paleri, also 12, said he regretted not learning the word before the competition.
The list used in this year’s competition included words not only of Latin and Greek origin, but also from Sanskrit, Arabic and Hindi.
Established in 1925, the National Spelling Bee began in the United States but has been growing popular internationally. Since 1976, the educational event, run on a not-for-profit basis by the E.W. Scripps Company, has been held in countries including China, South Korea, Jamaica, Ghana and Canada.
The Japan Times Bee started in 2010 as the only spelling contest in Japan officially endorsed by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Japan Times has hosted the annual contest ever since.
The contest was sponsored by Costco Wholesale Japan Ltd., Yours Corporation Ltd., Nifco Inc., Simmons Co. and The University of Southern California, and conducted with support from the U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.